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San Diego’s City Council this week approved Barrio Logan’s new community plan, an attempt to untangle residents and industry.

But passing the plan doesn’t put the issue to rest.

That’s partly because of the way implementing new community plans works. Changes are phased in over time, with properties holding onto their old zoning as long as they don’t go vacant for two straight years.

In this case, there are a few other reasons the plan isn’t quite finished.

Coastal Commission

All of Barrio Logan lies within the coastal zone, a state-drawn boundary along the Pacific. The California Coastal Commission has planning and regulatory authority over the whole area, an attempt to conserve the coast and ocean for future generations.

Even though the City Council approved the plan, it doesn’t actually go into effect until the California Coastal Commission gives its OK.

It’s unclear when, exactly, the Coastal Commission is going to hold its hearing on the plan.

Councilman David Alvarez’s office has since been told approval could come as early as June. If it misses that date, it could stretch to December 2014.

There’s been a general sense of optimism that the Coastal Commission would approve whatever plan came before it. The bigger hurdle is the time it’ll take to happen, not whether t’ll vote for the plan.

One element of the new plan could get some scrutiny.

Just like the plan itself needs to be approved by the commission, specific projects within the coastal zone also need a special development permit from the Coastal Commission.

But in an attempt to make the community more attractive to developers, planners have proposed an exclusion — assuming projects meet basic specifications — within the area closest to downtown. Approving the plan, then, means the Coastal Commission is basically pre-approving a whole range of projects expected in the coming years.

Clarifying the Zoning

There’s been a general sense of confusion over just what types of businesses can operate in the new “buffer zone” designed to separate homes from the shipyard in the middle of the community.

Companies that had their properties re-zoned by the plan can continue operating even after the change. Properties hang on to their old zoning as long as they don’t go vacant for two consecutive years.

Even so, many of the businesses in the area whose properties have been re-zoned say the change threatens their future. The city has made clear that it doesn’t want them to exist in those blocks anymore, they say.

But according to city planning staff, the new zoning won’t have any effect on some of the companies. Many of them would be considered acceptable commercial businesses even based on the new zoning, the planners have said.

Because of the confusion, Councilwoman Sherri Lightner at asked at Tuesday’s hearing that the city’s Land Use and Housing Committee hold a follow-up hearing to clarify which businesses are allowed to open under the new plan.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who chairs that committee, tentatively plans to schedule that hearing sometime this fall.

The Referendum Threat

Now that the Council has voted and the industry didn’t get its way, what had long been rumored has boiled over into public acknowledgment: The industry wants a public vote.

Industry spokesman Chris Wahl said the coalition he represents is “considering every available option to prevent this flawed decision from becoming permanent. This includes a referendum.”

A referendum would let the industry essentially appeal the Council’s decision to a vote of the people.

But the path to successfully overturn the new plan is full of obstacles.

To put the referendum on a general election ballot, industry supporters would need to collect valid signatures for 5 percent of the electorate, based on the most recent general election.

That means amassing nearly 38,000 signatures within 30 days of whenever interim Mayor Todd Gloria signs the plan. He has 10 days from Tuesday to do it.

The issue would be presented to voters at the next citywide election. The Council could also call a special election, but in this case the referendum would likely share a ballot with the upcoming mayoral election.

Collecting the signatures in such a short amount of time—and entirely from voters in the city of San Diego, meaning all the shipyard workers who live in other cities wouldn’t be eligible—will be an uphill climb, especially given the relative obscurity of the Barrio Logan plan. This isn’t like collecting recall signatures against Mayor Bob Filner –who led national news – and even then, that effort faced steep odds.

And persuading more than 50 percent of voters to repeal the plan would likewise mean informing most voters on the issue. That means mailers, ads and robocalls — all of which cost money.

The three major shipbuilders and the rest of the maritime industry have a lot of money, but political donors throughout town are going to be tapped for donations by the mayoral election going on at the same time.

Bottom line: It would be difficult, but not impossible.

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org...

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